Turning point, unsung hero and what’s next for UW football
LAS VEGAS -- UNLV capped the first half with a 10-play, 98-yard drive that culminated in a Max Gilliam quarterback sneak from two yards out to finally get the Rebels on the board.
Wyoming led 17-7 at that point, but it didn't feel like a 10-point game.
Xazavian Valladay busted a 78-yard touchdown run on the Cowboys' second play from scrimmage. The visitors added a field goal on the next drive.
Early in the second quarter, UW quarterback Levi Williams shook a would-be tackler and took a 15-yard jaunt into the end zone. The Pokes were rolling, thoroughly dominating in the trenches, on the stat sheet, and most importantly, on the numerous scoreboards inside shiny new Allegiant Stadium.
But that one Rebel drive changed everything. To make matters even more interesting, the home team received the second half kickoff.
Could UNLV really get back in this thing?
It sure appeared so.
Gilliam rushed for 12 yards. Then he hit Courtney Reese on a 10-yard gainer. The Rebels were in Wyoming territory for just the second time all afternoon.
Facing a 4th and 3 from the Cowboys' 46, Charles Williams went in motion and lined up in the pistol behind the quarterback. Gilliam took the snap, which forced him to his left. By the time he hauled it in, Wyoming's front four was incoming.
Gilliam tossed a floater to the right flat. Williams snagged it, but was quickly met by Cowboys' safety Esaias Gandy, who dumped the Rebel running back for an 11-yard loss.
Just when it appeared momentum was residing on the home bench, an odd play call unraveled any plans UNLV rookie head coach Marcus Arroyo had of getting his first victory in Vegas.
"I really thought a really key point in the game was reestablishing the momentum," UW head coach Craig Bohl said postgame. "UNLV chose to go for it on fourth ... As a result, we were able to convert there. That was like a turnover, then we went down and scored. We talked about reestablishing the momentum and that certainly did."
Wyoming scored nine plays later. Williams hammered his way into the end zone from a yard out.
The Rebels turned the ball over on their next two possessions.
The Pokes took full advantage.
"I think that was huge, especially coming out of halftime like that," UW safety Braden Smith said. "We knew we had to get a stop.
"Whenever you get a stop on fourth down, that completely deflates the other team."
"That was definitely very huge," linebacker Chad Muma added. "It was well executed ... Fourth-down stops are always great."
Williams again leaped over the pile for a score in the third quarter. Trey Smith, who had a career day, rushing for 164 yards on 24 carries, scampered into the black paint from 28 yards out to give the Cowboys a commanding 38-7 lead.
"... Momentum looked like it shifted that way," Wyoming's quarterback said. "The message was make them go three and out and score right off the bat and just kind of finish them off. To put the nail in their coffin early was important."
Wyoming 45, UNLV 14
This honor could go to the entire defensive line -- and to a degree, it does -- but you have to feel good for Wheatland product Justis Borton.
Bohl certainly does.
"Borton came back without a scholarship," Bohl said. "He adds so much to our football team. Guys like that embody what we are talking about. So between young guys and a guy like Justis Borton, that will get you fired up to go in the office and coach every day."
The big defensive tackle didn't record any stats in Las Vegas, but he did plenty of damage, clogging up the middle of the Rebels' front and allowing his teammates to take care of business.
Selflessness is Borton's MO.
He has played on both lines of scrimmage. He has played sparingly, appearing in just 13 games before this season. The senior has seen the field mainly on special teams, but Friday he was forced into action as the Cowboys played without defensive tackles Cole Godbout and Victor Jones.
Borton was already a locker room favorite, now, he's getting to show what he can do on the field.
“... Having a 1-2 punch like that, and then also getting Dawaiian (McNeeley) in and Double B (Brett Brenton) scored a touchdown. That ol' Natrona County guy goes in there and scores a touchdown, I think our sideline erupted. I hope the state of Wyoming erupted, too.”
— Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl on his Casper running back scoring a 19-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
How about another trip to Sin City? That's exactly what the Cowboys will do next Saturday when they return to the desert to take on New Mexico. The winless Lobos have set up shop at Sam Boyd Stadium this season, the former home of UNLV football. COVID-19 restrictions in their home state have forced New Mexico to call Las Vegas home in 2020. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. MST.